116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - Spent a half hour talking with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz today.
This is the raw transciption. I'll carve out a narrative tomorrow, but I thought you might be interested in seeing the words.
'Qs” are me and 'As” are him, but I'm sure you would've figured that out.
Q: The most 'you” team that you've had in a long time?
A: It's been fun to work with the guys, and the way they're playing right now is the way you hope a team would play and does play. I think there are a lot of parallels right now with the way we're playing to ‘13 most recently, but I think we're probably a little better, at least at this point.
That team played pretty well, too. These guys surprise us at times and have done things that we find really impressive.
Q: It's almost the way you'd draw it up.
A: Minus the injuries.
Q: Yes, minus the injuries.
A: Last Saturday surprised . . . I haven't polled the coaches yet, but I know I went into that game thinking, ‘This is really going to be interesting.' We've had so many obstacles internally. You wonder at some point if it's not going to catch up to you and we're playing a team at that point I assumed was going to be angry and ready to go and they have a quality resume. I was not thinking that we wouldn't win. I thought we might find some way to get out of there with a victory, but I didn't see that coming. That part was surprising. I guess to that point and the broader question, it doesn't seem like anything gets these guys down. No matter what's going on, they figure that they're going to figure something out. So far, they've been able to do it.
Q: I think Iowa football seasons, even the best ones, seem to have an adversity component, whatever it is.
A: You're never sure how they're going to respond. Some teams respond better than others. I'll jump around again, but I was thinking over the weekend, what team does this remind you of? For quite a while, I thought this was like the ‘13 or the ‘08 team, but more recently, I'm leaning toward ‘04 with all of the hand grenades and land mines and stuff blowing up. Those guys kept finding ways to get it done. It's been interesting for sure, but so far, so good.
Q: 'New Kirk” - There's less of a sense of hand wringing and more of a sense of attack with this team. The one play against Pitt when you went from heavy to spread and forced a timeout. That's aggression, that feels new. You put the pressure on the other sideline. Brian has been putting #attack in his tweets. It seems there is a more of a sense of attack and less a sense of . . .
A: I chuckle just a little bit, because last year we did more on fourth down. Last year, we were aggressive with it. Yeah, that's been our mind-set. That was a game-plan specific thing. There are a couple of teams that would pertain to. Flashing back to my time in the NFL, if you put 22 out there, Houston Oilers/Titans would match you with a goal-line looking defense. Nebraska has done that in the past. I don't know what they'll do this year. That's something that's kind of evolved in our thinking. If they're going to get heavy with us, then, with our tight ends we feel like we've got enough versatility where we could make them make a decision on how they are going to play us. If they're going to try to overload us, then we'll have a counterattack plan. That's more of an off-season type of thing, but it fit that game and it did cause a little duress on their sideline, which is good.
Q: It seems that's pervaded things. The way you guys ran the ball last week, it was relentless. There's a little thing in every game. There's been an overall aggressiveness.
A: I think we're a little more diverse in the way things look for the opponents, but we're really not much different, I don't think. Then, the other part, C.J. will make a couple of throws that not many quarterbacks will do historically. Tate had a little bit of that to him. The throw he made to Henry and the one in the bowl game to Hamilton, that's a hard throw and he's got the confidence. That helps make it a little bit trickier for the defense, too.
Q: All of the sudden, you've got a back-shoulder throw, something you've tried for a couple of years. There's so much that goes into that, too.
A: It's not easy.
Q: There's an overall aggressiveness, you guys are taking the fight to people.
A: I think the way your team is doing things helps shape how you want to approach things. We've seen enough from these guys in practice to think, ‘Hey, maybe we can do this.' I think what they do feeds us a little bit. Like the Wisconsin thing, we told them, ‘This is the way we're going to play it.' That's kind of built a mutual confidence in some ways.
Q: That's what the players said after Pitt. They know if they want your confidence, they have to show they deserve it. I think that's kind of bouncing back and forth.
A: I think it's probably that way every year, but it's how the team responds. This group has been responsive.
Q: It's noticeable this year. Mostly wins.
A: It's nice when it works, and, right, bottom line, it's wins. If you lose a couple of those games, then none of that stuff looks quite as good.
Q: When you met with your coaches in the off-season and after recruiting, was that more concentrating on personnel? It seems the staff really knows what to ask of players. Last week with Sean Welsh, I think moving him to tackle was an underrated move. It gave you your best run-blocking OL and you took advantage. It seems there's a heightened sense of what guys can do and then being able to put them in the right spots.
A: That goes back to right after the bowl. The first order of business, to me, was let's talk about our players, everybody on the roster, while it's fresh on our minds. What adjustments can we make? What can this guy do or can't do? Are we missing anything? Special teams-wise, is this guy capable of doing more than we see? I tried to encourage everyone to chip in a little bit. That kind of set the format for it. To your point, after recruiting, everything was open at that point, whether it was recruiting ideas or practice ideas or personnel schematics.
I think part of the broader picture and I know I've said this but I really believe this - and all I know is us, I don't know about other places - Randy Walker (former Northwestern coach who passed away in 2006) went into Northwestern with his whole staff from Miami (Ohio) intact. We both got to our respective places at the same time, but I thought they were way ahead of us because our guys came from all different directions. I really think we've gone through that process again since ‘13 on, ‘12 in some way, but ‘13 we pretty much got everybody who's here now was on the bus at that point.
It takes a while to learn about your place and your players. This is a unique place, in my mind. I just think it is. We have a better understanding of each other as a staff and our lot in life, and it's a good one, a good lot in life but a different lot in life, what works for us. I think that's factored into it. I think we're just better at utilizing our players. I think we have a better understanding on how to get the best out of them. That's something in the out-of-season is important. Obviously, (strength and conditioning coach) Chris Doyle plays a major role in that, too. His stuff has been more of a constant, but nonetheless, there's interaction, ‘Do we understand Chris?' and does he understand us? That's familiarity and that's time. The parallel I'd draw there is in the NFL when you have a scouting staff who doesn't understand what the coaching staff wants. There was a guy who came through here, I won't say who the team was, but they just went through a coaching change and are off to a really good start. This guy is a personnel guy down there who I've known a long time and really like and respect him. He was in here the Sunday before we started the season. He was all jacked up. This guy is a veteran guy, but he was like a little kid. He said, we just got this new staff and it was the first time since I've been with this organization that they invited the scouts to be with them in the coaching meetings, position meetings. The objective was for the scouts to better understand what they need to be successful with. It's not the same thing, but it is kind of the same thing. We all need to be on the same page in this building. I think all of us as coaches need to understand what Chris is doing and why he's doing it and vice versa, so we're all meshing again there.
The idea is to help a player develop toward what's going to be successful, what we're asking him to do offensively or defensively. To me, it's all a matter of teamwork. To me, our staff really jelled during those 2001-2002 seasons. In 2002, we had it humming pretty good as a staff. It really came together for us in 2001 and that's what I'm hoping we're going through now, here, internally. To me, it was like starting all over again during 2012-13 with our staff. New coordinators. It was Phil's first year, but the system wasn't all that new. He's tweaked it a little bit, made some adjustments. Ultimately . . . and our kids made this observation during the summer . . . We had games from the past up on the monitors (all over the Hansen Performance Complex). When I met with the group, their observation was the teams look the same, whether it was ‘01 or ‘02 or our good victories in ‘13. We're playing the same way, and, hopefully, that's good fundamental football and we're not beating ourselves.
Q: Also when you met with coaches, was game management part of the discussion?
A: Everything was open. We talk about everything every year . . . This year we talked more than in years past. Everything was open for discussion. What have you done? Where are the places we've visited? What did we bring back? What sounded good?
That's one nice thing about this day and age. You can sit in your office and because of technology and cellphones (and gather information). Norm used to be a master of that, because he knew everyone in coaching. For instance, parking survey. What are other schools doing for their players as far as parking goes. Half-hour later, Norm has 10 schools surveyed and we're somewhere in the middle.
Q: You guys went out to Oregon. Was that morning practices and running game?
A: Not our running game. To me, they were the originators of morning practice and some of the tempo stuff. They looked at it a little bit differently with Chip Kelly. He went and visited with the New England staff for a day or two a couple of years ago when Brian was there. That kind of sparked his interest and it made sense. There's an Iowa flavor out there (former Iowa player Erik Chinander coaches OLBs; former Iowa D-line coach Ron Aiken coaches the D-line). The idea was what are they doing and why? How do they do it? And then we came up with our own deal.
Q: Did they take anything from you guys?
A: I don't know. I doubt it.
Q: Everyone thinks that's a one-way discussion. That's a two-way deal. No way coaching staff lets you in without, ‘Let's see what this guy is doing here.'
A: If they're smart, they're picking your brain. That's the smart thing to do.
Q: Was it strange being that wide open with your staff? That's a potentially vulnerable situation.
A: That's how you learn. One thing that always fascinated me with coach (Bill) Belichick, and I joke about this, but he was the first head coach I ever met who really had ears that worked. Not only did they work, but he wanted to hear what you said. He encouraged it. He's an interesting person. You might think you did a report or said something to him and that was it, it dies. Then, four weeks later, he references a conversation you had with him. And, oh, I guess he was listening, one of those deals.
But I think that's how all of us grow and learn. The more information you get, how can it be bad? The trick is figuring out how it pertains to where you're at. That's where everyone has to give their two cents. We kind of weigh and measure things and try to figure something that's going to work for us.
Q: I think the same opportunities are there for your skill guys. This year, they're making those plays.
A: No question.
Q: What's flipped that switch? I think an obvious answer is C.J.
A: Yes, he's done a good job. Even on the little bubble screens or whatever you want to call them, we did a great job executing those the other day. I've seen a lot of those that haven't looked too good. I still have a lot of scar tissue from throwing one to Scott Chandler at Ohio State in ‘05. He almost, I swear, was broken in half. What are we doing? Just one of those.
The other day, they looked great and a lot of that is the throw. You have to make a good throw on that. It doesn't seem like it's a hard play, but it's a hard play. The teams that do it all the time, it's not as big of a thing for us, so if we could stay at that level, I'd be really pleased. The other aspect, too, is the guy in front has to block. Our receivers are blocking better than they ever have. I'm really happy about that.
Q: On C.J., I want to say you guys have gone all-in on players before, Brad Banks for example. You didn't have a huge knowledge base with Brad. You had one year and recruiting. You didn't have a big book on Brad, but still handed him the keys. I think C.J. is kind of the same way, but you did have him for three years.
His toughness has struck me. He comes from a place where you might not think he would have to be this tough, but then again, he is from a football background. It's the football heritage.
A: Both of those guys, the ‘how they got here' stories. Ron Aiek went in to look at a D-lineman who wasn't that interested in us, I think it was Hinds (a community college in Mississippi). The secondary coach was a friend of Ron's, Ron knew him from somewhere. He said, ‘Hey, you've got to look at our quarterback, too.' OK, really. What's his name, blah, blah, blah. So, we threw the tape on and we liked him a lot. The last thing I wanted was a JC guy. We were not interested in it. We had three high school kids ranked ahead of him and none of the three liked us. So, OK, who's next on the list. It's Brad. We brought him in and we all fell in love with the kid. He was that kind of guy. The best part is when he left my house that Sunday morning, he said, ‘You might want to look at my cousin, too.' That's nice, what's his name? C.J. Jones, you know the rest of the story. That's the science of recruiting. We had him for the one year, so there wasn't as much evidence, whereas we've had C.J. (Beathard) here for a while. We only got C.J. because Ole Miss got fired. So, the next thing you know, he's here.
It was after the Iowa State game, I was asked about him, and it's his poise and his toughness. That's what has impressed us. Those are two things you don't know. You can try to simulate them, you try to put guys in hard situations, but we don't smack our guys. We don't let them get hit. You saw some of it last year, but what we've seen this year in seven games, that's why the team believes in him so much. They know how tough he is. He's an impressive guy.
Q: I know it's only seven games, but he's off to an 8-0 start as your starter, is he doing things that you guys have needed at quarterback?
A: I don't know if that's fair. I go back to the decision we made in January. Usually, when you say you have two (quarterbacks), you've got none. But I think history has proved we did have two. I still think we had a really good team in ‘13. I know we've lumped it as a five-year drought, but we were a good football team in ‘13. The teams that beat us, they wouldn't sign up for a return match.
We felt like we had to make a decision. There is guesswork involved in any personnel decision. I wish and I think we all wish we could tell you that it was going to pan out this way. We didn't know that. There's no guarantees. Jake is doing a great job up there, too. We saw him on film against Norhtwestern and he played super. They're two really good players. But we're really happy with what C.J. is doing, he's playing super.
Q: Any nervous moments in the days after that decision was made?
A: You make your mind up and go. I'm not a big one for looking back. We had to do something in fairness to everybody, mostly in fairness to our football team. It was at a point . . . I don't think it was an issue a year ago in September or August, I didn't see it that way at all, but I think clearly we had to do something. It wasn't going to work, I don't think. Both guys were good enough to where it wasn't going to work. Probably more amplified than Cody (Sokol). It worked out great for Cody, it's worked out great for Jake and it's working out great for C.J.
If you go back and look at that depth chart . . . In fact I was just on the phone with (Matt) Leinart (former USC QB and now a radio host), as I'm talking, I'm thinking about the depth chart for the ‘02 Orange Bowl, where it was Palmer, Cassel and Leinart. That was their three deep, so I was thinking we have C.J., Rudock and Sokol. I was thinking, that's as close as we could get. But all three guys went on to be winning quarterbacks in college programs. That's a good deal. I think it's worked out for everybody. So far.
Q: We (media) had few ins with C.J. last year. One happened to be after Derrick Willies left. C.J. was friends with Willies. One thing that struck me that C.J. said, ‘Hey, there's five weeks left in the season, you never know what's going to happen.' That told me he threw down the anchor and was willing to at least see what was going to happen toward the end of the season.
A: One of the worst things you can do is leave during the season. Unless there's some reason or extenuating circumstance and there wasn't. If you're part of a team or an organization, you have to put your personal thoughts aside sometimes and just kind of ride the wave a little bit. But that being said, I'm not mad at Derrick and wish him the best. He's a great young man and I like him a lot. He made a decision to move on and that was unfortunate. To that point, you're talking about a guy who's a team leader. It's one thing when you're on a team and a part of something and a friend might decide to do something, that doesn't mean you're going to follow. You do what's best for you based on your own. He's going to think for himself. I don't see him being a real compulsive or reactionary guy.
Q: Norm Parker I know was your Bill Brashier. Is Phil Parker your new Bill Brashier and what a fantastic run of defensive coordinators. You talk about defense all the time and I agree, defense has to be the spine of this program.
A: I was reared that way, in all sports, at least that's the way I look at it. Think about the defensive coordinators I've been around during my career. It's amazing.
I get here and Bill Brashier is here. I've always felt like he was the foundation. Coach Fry was obviously the guy, but the role that Bill had and Bill Snyder, too, but Bill left, but Bill Brashier was so understated, like Norm. The only thing that was different was one guy was from Hazel Park (Mich., Norm) and the other guy was from Texas and ‘aw shucks.' They were so similar. Their schemes were different, but they were similar. The simplicity and the little things they did, the little maneuvers they did, a lot of times you don't see and a lot of times coaches don't even see, little things you adjust and all of the sudden, you hamstring the opponent. Bill could do that. Norm could do that. It's the old story about knowing where to tinker. Those guys knew how to do it. I've been lucky that way.
When I was in the NFL, I was with (Nick) Saban for a couple of years. Then, Rick Venturi slash Bill, Rick got sick and Bill took over. In Baltimore, I was with Marvin Lewis for three years. I get back here and I'm with Norm and now with Phil.
Just like I've talked about the staff evolving, this is Phil's first coordinator job. He's the best secondary coach I've ever worked with on any level. Now, it's kind of like the offensive room, it's really settled. I think the defensive room is the same. Everyone knows each other's moves. I think Seth (Wallace) being in there, too, with his background and Seth was a coordinator, too (Valdosta State before coming to Iowa before last season). Having Jim (Reid, former defensive coordinator at Virginia before coming to Iowa before 2013) in there, too. I know when Jim got here, he was very reassuring to Phil, like, ‘Hey, that was a great call.' Phil beats himself up, like we all do. ‘Why did I call that?' ‘That was a good call, sometimes a player has to make a play.' When you have a veteran coach saying things like that, just like our team has a good vibe, our staff has the same thing. Everybody is supporting each other. We all have doubts. If you're making decisions, it's easy to say a day later, ‘What did I do that for?' You didn't just pull it out of your butt, there's a reason why you did it and we all agreed on it.
Q: I looked at the roster and I thought 8-4. Now, your roster has been sheared off and it seems like the deeper you reach, the better you get. How is that happening?
A: a) How's it happen? b) How long does it last? That's the really dark question. Again, I think it speaks to the spirit of the players we've got. I'm being totally candid. Last weekend, I would've taken a one-point (win). Is it 1-0 or 2-0 with a forfeit in football? I would've signed up for that so fast and gotten out of there.
I don't know how to explain it. A lot of things happen during the course of a season. Hopefully, we've used up our injury cards. Hopefully, we're out of those things now. It's part of football and you've got to keep pushing through it. The ones that affect you are the ones that happen to Drew (Ott), where it's a senior. It's just like Bruce Kittle in 1981 (suffered a knee injury late in the year and missed the Rose Bowl). You have a great win and you feel good about the day and then you're sitting at home at night feeling like you lost by 20 because that part hurts. That's reality.
Q: Guys emerge. Three guys I have in mind are Sean Welsh, Parker Hesse and Akrum Wadley. My first thought with Sean was, ‘You weren't here in the spring, good thing you are now.' And he looks like Marshal Yanda.
A: There's something about him, a quality, a demeanor.
Q: I asked Akrum about doghouse after the game, and he said, no, it's about trust.
A: It's not just for guys who touch the ball. If you blow a tackle or miss a blitz pickup, your quarterback gets knocked in the head and the ball comes out. Everyone has a role in ball security. Turnover and takeaway margins are huge. If you don't respect that, it's really hard to be out there on the field. His ability hasn't kept him off the field, it's been maturity. I'm not saying it's the exact same thing with C.J., but that one bad practice whenever it was last September, you just can't do that. You do lose trust. It's not just the coaches seeing it, it's everybody. Not that we're perfect, but I think the players understand, the guys on the field right now are committed to trying to do things. Things are going to happen, that's football. The ball is going to come out. People are going to get hit. Guys are going to blow a coverage. When you're not totally committed to not letting it happen, that's when you lose, I think that's when teams lose their cohesiveness. Akrum has worked hard on that and it showed Saturday, it clearly showed. He's been working to overcome the things that we think were concerning and that's encouraging.
Q: Big picture, you guys are 7-0 and in the eye of the storm again.
A: 11-0 until Nebraska, I read that headline the other day. Perfect.
Q: You guys are in the storm again. It feels like 2002 and the air is starting to get under it. Maybe 2004, except with the early loss.
A: That year we kind of sneaked in there.
Q: If the loss would've come later, I think you would've been more in the Rose Bowl conversation that year.
A: Absolutely. We got slaughtered at Arizona State. Then, we turned it over six or five or maybe it was four times at Michigan, more than you can. We just kind of got brushed off to the side.
That's a different story. I told our guys somewhere in November, if we keep messing around and winning these close games, we're going to end up playing someone on New Year's Day and getting embarrassed, someone we don't belong playing. And we did, but the players didn't know better and pushed through that one, too.
Q: Do you allow yourself any big picture thinking?
A: I told the guys Sunday, take a couple of days and think big. That's OK, that's healthy. You have to dream in life. It's OK to have vision. We expanded the 24-hour rule and told them to think big. The other part was enjoy this a little bit. You guys have worked your tails off. For us to be 7-0 right now, a lot of things are happening. Special things going on, special efforts. A lot of good stuff. I said, enjoy that, feel good about it, you've earned that. Fortunately, we don't play this week, so maybe we have a little time to wiggle on all of that stuff.
My message this morning, I shared this with them (it was a sheet with odds and upsets that have happened since Wisconsin, in which Iowa was a 5-point underdog and, thus, pulling the upset). History takes care of things. The bottom line is it's back to reality. That's kind of the way it is with a football team. You're going to have challenges every year. It started out with a lot of negativity going into the season. And now it's gone in the other direction. Now, people are talking about not bowl games not so much, but I think I read somewhere how to get your tickets to Indy. Like, buy them. Order them. I don't think it's that big of a deal. That's easy. But all of that stuff. I've done a couple of radio deals that were national. First of all, four weeks ago, no one was calling. All of the sudden on Sunday, we had a list (10 to 12).
Q: Guys you haven't heard from since . . .
A: Since we were sexy the last time. We've done that road as coaches, but for players, it started that weekend at Wisconsin. Four of the favorites got beat that weekend, including Wisconsin. Everybody sang the praises of Mississippi that week like they're the new Alabama, and then Florida slaughtered them. It's easy for people to say things, but unless you have to go out there and compete, it's a whole different story and every week there are examples.
The challenges shift all of the time. What's going to take your focus off what it needs to be? If you're going to let people talking negatively about you affect you, it's probably not going to help you on Saturday. Now, it's swung the other way. Guys are out there on campus and everyone is telling them ‘Go team' and all of that jazz. You guys are great and all of that stuff. The players get it way more than we do. There's a great Bruce Arians (Arizona Cardinals head coach) quote from a few weeks ago, ‘When they're patting you on the back, they're just trying to find the soft spot for the knife.' Just never forget that, it's inevitable.
So, it's another challenge to handle. I guess we'd rather deal with this one than the other.
I think adversity is easier to handle. I think history would say that. History of the world. People don't do so well with success. If you win games, that's going to be part of the discussion. That's just the way it goes.
Hopefully, we have to get used to it.
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